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  • Michael Krakovskiy 10:45 am on July 27, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Digital media, Facebook applications, , Insidious, , , , Tiny Tower, , Zynga   

    How to Help Tiny Tower Zombies Through Time Travel 

    Do you have a friend or a loved one who exhibits a strange fixation on an iphone game that makes them perform mindless repetitive tasks and mutter gibberish about “building new floors”, “dream jobs”, and “stocking the bowling alley” while producing cash register sounds. Don’t worry, these people did not go nuts – they are simply addicted to “Tiny Tower” – iPhone’s version of Farmville.

    Tiny Tower is an insidious game: it’s designed to make its victims perform in-game routines wired to the pleasure center of the brain while keeping them comfortably numb. There’s something meditative in these repetitive tasks, they are akin to playing with prayer beads. The concept of the game also carries the religious theme, as the player is tasked with controlling the fate of “bitizens” – little pixel people, assigning their jobs and apartments. This feeling of control over the fake little world is its own reward.

    After getting tired of seeing my co-workers spending their lunches hunched over their Tiny Towers I tried to put a stop to these “lunches of the living dead”. Cracking jokes about “tiny towers” didn’t work, and neither did the appeals to reason.

    The most insidious part of the game is the fact that you need to spend a lot of time waiting for the items to be restocked and the floors to be built. I thought that the developers of the game would implement some kind of an independent timer, but they were lazy and used the system time. It turned out that the best way to fight the Tiny Tower zombification is to show how to change the system time (settings -> general -> date and time -> uncheck “set automatically”) so that the money accumulation and the floor building would go fast. Once that happens the whole addictive game dynamic is broken and you can again talk to your friends and colleagues.

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 9:01 pm on November 17, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , Digital media, DISQUS, , google.com, , , Internet ethics, , Maciej Ceglowski, , , road solution, search appliance, server farm, , , stackoverflow.com, , , web interface, ,   

    8 Pieces of Architectural Advice for CMS 

    I have some advice for those in the business of building large websites with content management systems.

    1) Do not implement search yourself.

    Your CMS sucks at search, and so do you. I see this again and again and again. Everyone is implementing search on large websites instead of using Google. Developers are afraid of looking unprofessional. Managers are answer yes to the question “do you want advanced/faceted search” (the correct answer is no – user’s don’t like it and don’t use it). As a result a lot of resources (both server and developer) go into implementing something that Google is awesome at. Even some very smart people, like Jeff Atwood roll their own search, and their users end up going to google.com and typing “foo site:stackoverflow.com”.

    Users are very happy with Google CSE, and don’t mind the text ads. Those text ads – well, that’s revenue that you would otherwise would not have, however small this is. If you absolutely can’t do Google CSE – buy their search appliance. If you can’t do that either – well, you better be using Solr.

    2) Do not implement comments yourself (unless comments are what you do for a living).

    It is extremely difficult to get comments right. Users absolutely abhor comments. Spammers – well, they love it. Luckily, you can just go and get DISQUS to do all the heavy lifting for you. The time saved on using DISQUS can be used on building something else, meanwhile users absolutely love leaving comments through it, while spammers hate it.

    3) Physically separate your admin interface from the stuff that is going to be used by your users.

    Maciej Ceglowski has some words of advice about not having your blog hacked: cache your output in flat files and hide the admin interface. The benefits of this are tremendous: cached files are fast and secure. You will need to do some fancy footwork to serve up parts that change a lot, but you can do it the same way DISQUS and Google CSE do it – through the magic of AJAX.

    4) Sanity check: calculate the amount of RAM in the home computers of all of your interns. Compare that to the amount of RAM in your server farm. Who wins?

    5) Use a CDN and/or caching proxy, don’t be cheap. These things will save your butt when Yahoo and Digg will come a-knocking at the same time. I’m not even going to mention Memcached – you can’t get big without it at all.

    6) Fight WYSIWYG editors. These things are the worst. They are the Devil. They are a security hole. You never get what you see. People paste from Word. Do I need to go on?

    The best middle of the road solution is something like Markdown.

    Do not underestimate the user’s ability to learn a few simple rules. When I worked at TV Guide there was this movie database application. Very non-technical editors were using a very scary-looking Unix-based interface at an amazing speed. When I rewrote it as a web interface, it became more “user-friendly”, but they could not enter stuff as fast as before.

    7) Make sure you have good backups

    8) I know you won’t be able to follow my advice, I know I can’t either. Life is a constant compromise.

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 7:56 pm on November 17, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Digital media, , Horror fiction, , Plants vs. Zombies, , Undead, , , Zombie   

    Zombie-free Mac Children’s Games 

    I was born at the beginning of the age of information. I welcome the content deluge.

    I’m not a snob. I do not discriminate amongst the sources of content, gladly consuming books, television, movies, music, magazines, websites, wikis, and blogs. I like to think that thanks to technologies like ebook readers, blog aggregation, suggestion engines at Amazon and Netflix, and Tivo I limit my input to only the stuff that is “awesome” on the “Normal people” scale.

    I remember the time when the flow of information available to me was limited to my father’s sizable library and a few hours a week of interesting TV culled from the 3 horrible channels of Soviet television, and really don’t miss it.

    My 4 year old daughter is swimming in the sea of information together with me. We read books to her (the quality of children’s books these days is amazing), she watches dvd and tivo’d shows, youtube videos on a laptop. She really wants to play with a computer as well.

    Unfortunately the only game that I have is “Plants Vs. Zombies“. We play it together usually as a reward for good behavior. She enjoys the “zen garden” part of the game, as well as the regular “zombie” part. This, of course led to the questions on the nature of zombies (uhh), their diet (brains), the nature of brains, and the absence of female zombies in the game (uhhh).

    When Natalie was younger and I used to have a PC, there was a whole bunch of craptastic PC games (one even with a special keyboard, if I remember) that we used to play. These crashed often and were pretty retarded.

    Now that I have a Mac, I’m looking for some better, zombie-free games suitable for a 4 year old. Finding good computer games is much more difficult than finding good children’s books. Do you have any suggestions?

     
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